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Sports

Title Contenders Hope Schalke Curse Stays

Bayern Munich face Schalke 04 on Saturday, the only team to beat them twice last season.

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In the corresponding game last season, Lincoln's goal beat Bayern

Bayern set a new benchmark of 15 consecutive league wins this season but they have lost the last five matches at Schalke and must end that jinx to remain at the Bundesliga summit. Anything but three points would allow SV Hamburg, one point behind, or Werder Bremen, two points adrift, to replace Bayern at the top.

"Bayern have not collected many points at Schalke over the past few years - it is time that changed," said Bayern handler Felix Magath. "I think Schalke are our main contenders for the title once again."

Magath welcomes back German international captain Michael Ballack from injury but admitted he was unsure how long the midfielder would last.

Fourth-placed Schalke trail Munich by six points but a sixth straight win in Gelsenkirchen could pull them back into the title frame.

"Our fans are pumped up for the Bayern game and will push us forward for 90 minutes," said Schalke's Brazilian star Lincoln. "Bayern will not be content with a draw and neither will we."

Lincoln scored the winner the last time the two teams met in March 2004 with the 1-0 win sending Schalke top of the table - but it proved irrelevant at the end of the season as Bayern won the title at a canter.

Hamburg and Van der Vaart grabbing the headlines

Hamburger SV vs. 1 FC Kaiserslautern

Van der Vaart is earning his 5.1 million with six goals for Hamburg

Along with Schalke Thomas Doll's Hamburg are the only team yet to taste defeat in the German top-flight and hope to preserve that record at home to VfL Wolfsburg. An impressive haul of 20 points from eight games is Hamburg's best start since 1994 and the six-time German champions are one point behind Bayern.

Netherlands international Rafael van der Vaart, a 5.1 million euro signing from Ajax, has been a key figure scoring six goals in eight games and drawing comparisons with Hamburg legend Kevin Keegan.

Former England international Keegan scored 32 goals in 90 games as Hamburg won the Bundesliga in 1979, and Hamburg hope Van der Vaart could be the man to bring the title back to the club for the first time since 1983 - the year he was born.

"At Ajax Rafael was moved all around the place but at Hamburg he is our playmaker and playing very well indeed," said Hamburg defender Khalid Boulahrouz.

Bremen creeping up on top two

While Hamburg have been taking all the headlines 2004 champions Bremen have crept into third almost unnoticed.

On Saturday Bremen host FC Nuremberg at the Weserstadion knowing they can go top if Hamburg and Bayern both slip up.

Fußball Bundesliga Werder Bremen gegen Borussia Dortmund

Bremen will need Klasnic and Klose's help to stay in the race

Croatian international Ivan Klasnic and German international Miroslav Klose have plundered 13 goals between them in eight games to push Bremen into the top three.

Elsewhere Michael Skibbe takes charge of Bayer Leverkusen for the first time on Saturday with an away trip to Mainz 05.

Skibbe was assistant coach to Rudi Völler for Germany's miserable Euro 2004 campaign - when they failed to win a single match - and the duo are reunited with Völler already installed as Leverkusen sporting director.

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